Journalists: Write not just stories but $oftware too

Journalism operations are unduly heavily focused on distributing and monetizing content. They thus are neglecting a potentially lucrative business opportunity: creating and selling software for gathering and analyzing information.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | October 30, 2014

That is the argument presented by Gavin Sheridan, formerly of Storyful, in a provocative (and optimistic) blog post entitled, “Why the future of news is software.”

Sheridan, who was innovation director at Storyful, argues, “All functions of journalism relate to three core principles  – information gathering, information analysis, and the distribution of the results of that process.” He says journalism’s current preoccupation with the last of those three steps is based on the assumption that the first two have been more or less perfected – which is absolutely not true.

The proof of its falsity is demonstrated by the current boom in data journalism. Journalists and coders are together constantly finding new sources of data to mine, and more effective ways to analyze and present that data.

Sheridan writes, “Data journalism and the skills associated with it lead naturally to an evolution: to software products. After all software in some ways is just more sophisticated and systemised data gathering (scraping etc), and analysis (Excel etc).

“We need to build software that does as many of the mundane tasks in gathering and parsing information as possible, and let the humans focus on the things humans are good at. And we need to sell those tools.”

If they build good software, journalism operations can both make a good deal of money and use the tools to generate story ideas, contends Sheridan. The software can be sold to niche markets, possibly worldwide, starting with the publication’s own readers: “Sell products to your business readers who want tools to help them do business. Sell to your real estate readers who want tools to help them find and buy property or analyse shifts in planning applications.”

He cites the tools Open CorporatesRankandFiledDuedil, and Govini, and asks rhetorically why journalists did not build them.

He writes, “You could find yourself no longer thinking along the eyeballs/advertising paradigm, but instead thinking about software products worth potentially billions of dollars.

“What have you got to lose by trying?” Sheridan concludes.

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